SEATTLE, WA — A King County initiative that moved people experiencing homelessness out of shelters and into hotel rooms early in the pandemic helped slow transmission of the virus and led to increased overall health and stability, according to a new study.
In April, the county announced it would transition nearly 400 people from shelters to three hotels located in Bellevue, Renton and Seatac. Since then, the rooms have provided temporary shelter for more than 800 people.
A study conducted by the University of Washington and the county's Department of Community and Human Services found improved physical and mental health among those housed in hotels, bolstered by having a secure place to call home and reliable access to food.
Other benefits highlighted in the summary include:
Increased feelings of stability associated with consistent access to a private room
Improved health and well-being, including sleep, hygiene and mental health
Reduced conflict, as evidenced by declines in 911 call volume from shelters
More time to think about and take steps toward future goals
Higher rates of exits to permanent housing
"Moving people from large shelters to individual hotel rooms not only succeeded in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but also provided security, privacy and dignity to hundreds of people in our region experiencing homelessness," said Dow Constantine, King County Executive. "This study conclusively demonstrates the positive impacts of providing our most vulnerable neighbors a place to call their own and 24/7 support, and it underscores the urgency in expanding these efforts in the coming months."
While the county's current hotel leases are in place through January, Constantine is looking to build on the program's success to serve more people in need in the coming years.
In late September, the executive unveiled his $12.4 billion biennial budget plan, which included $400 million to fund permanent housing programs for the homeless. Part of that plan includes buying properties like hotels and nursing homes to use as emergency housing, to help move 2,000 people out of homelessness. The county estimates 4,500 "chronically homeless" people currently receive services.
"Our service providers met the moment," said Leo Flor, the DCHS director. "They shifted from congregate shelters to hotels on a week's notice, and they kept their residents safe, slowed our entire community's spread of COVID, and tested a better approach that we are now trying to bring to scale in partnership with cities across the County."
The summary published Wednesday is just a preview of the full study, which is expected to be available later in the fall.